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Friday, April 22, 2022

EDUCATION IN CYBERSPACE – VIRTUAL WORLDS BEST PRACTICES IN EDUCATION: JOSH(THOMAS1 BELLIC) REPORTING


The SecondLife Grid is home to a great many innovative groups of people who have devised new ways to incorporate Virtual Worlds into our daily lives. The areas of art, entertainment, finance, education, and others, have all been enhanced through their creative efforts. Leaders in the use of cyberspace in education, the folks at VWBPE just wrapped up their 15th annual Conference.  I recently sat down with Beth, iSkye, LV, and Kevin, me of the Staff of VWBPE and they graciously consented to answer a couple of questions about their innovative work in support of education.  


Let's get started, shall we?


Josh (Thomas1 Bellic) JB:  So then, tell me, Beth.  Exactly what is this VWBPE thing the buzz is all about?


Beth:  VWBPE stands for Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education, which culminates in an annual online conference held each spring. Immersive virtual environments have been used in education long before the advent of head-mounted viewers like the Oculus Quest. We bring together educators and other interested people from all over the world to discuss how these environments can most productively be used for teaching and learning. 



JB:  How did the idea of a VWBPE conference come into being?


LV:  Back in early 2007 there were informal groups of educators and those interested in the potential of virtual worlds for education who would get together to talk about the ‘what might could be’. One of the ideas tossed around based on their personal (and physical) experiences was “What would happen if we had a conference and asked educators to share their best practices?”  These informal discussions became more serious, and SL-BPE (Second Life Best Practices in Education) was born. 


On May 25, 2007, 1300 educators from around the world gathered at the Second Life Best Practices in Education: Teaching, Learning, and Research 2007 International Conference in the virtual world of Second Life. The event was the first 24-hour, international conference ever to take place entirely within a virtual world. 


After a year’s hiatus, Rockcliffe University Consortium took over the conference co-ordination and SL-BPE was reborn in 2009 as Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE). It continues to this day.



JB:   This Conference is a big undertaking.  How many folks does it take to put on something like this, of this magnitude?


Beth:  At the top, we have the Executive Committee of three people. They are joined by six more people to make up the Organizing Committee. We also have the help of dozens more people who assist with the conference itself. Our volunteers are second to none in their dedication, enthusiasm, and energy, in every part of the Conference. 

 

Kevin:  All in total there are between 70-90 people that are dedicating their time to bringing this conference to life. 



JB:   What are some of the more interesting areas a visitor might see at a VWBPE Event?


Beth:  My favorite part of this conference is the Exhibit Hall, which is unlike anything you’d see at a brick-and-mortar conference. Our theme for the conference build for the past three years has been Outer Space, so exhibitors are given a parcel floating in space in which to build something. It’s so amazing to see the things they come up with to portray their ideas and offerings! The exhibits are open through April 23rd, by the way.


It’s also fun during the conference to see some of the different avatars that people use to represent themselves. At various times I have been a human, a tiny hedgehog, and a bunny, for instance.



JB:   What are some of the more inventive things that have been pioneered at VWBPE?


iSkye: One example is a different approach to mathematics, called SubQuan, which if you try it, revolutionizes the ability to do and understand math, from addition/subtraction to multiplication/division, to algebra, geometry, and more. The demonstration was entirely in 3D. A 5-year-old child could catch on within minutes - me with a university degree, I caught on very quickly and I haven’t forgotten it!




JB:   Have you heard of some success stories as educators implement the things they learn at these conferences?


Kevin:  Many educators credit their desire to create a curriculum in Second Life based on what they have seen other people do at our conference. 

 

LV: Absolutely.  A common story is that someone was inspired by a presentation or an exhibit and later made contact with the presenter, becoming collaborators in future work.  Another is graduate students using presentations to further their research interests and partnerships.  An advantage to virtual world events like this is the ability to IM someone immediately to express an interest in their work. 



JB:   Second Life is, arguably, a VW platform designed for adults.  Do you know of any particular child-safe Virtual Worlds that teachers can use in their classrooms or during remote learning scenarios?


Beth:  Although the conference deals with a multitude of virtual environments, we use Second Life for the conference itself because it’s the crossroads for virtual world educators to make connections with each other. Open Simulator and Minecraft: Education Edition offers the privacy that’s needed for younger children, and some of us are working with Linden Lab to have the same affordances in Second Life.




JB:   You do employ a lot of volunteers for these events.  How might someone get involved in supporting  VWBPE, either during the annual conference or throughout the year?


Beth:  The best thing to do is to contact Bluebarker Lowtide, our Volunteers Chair (https://www.vwbpe.org/contact). Starting in January we’ll begin recruiting volunteers for the conference itself, and the volunteer registration form opens up at that time. If you’re interested in more of a leadership role, contact Kevin Feenan at info@vwbpe.org at any time. Planning for the next conference begins right after the past conference, and starts to pick up speed in the Fall. Volunteering is a great way to meet interesting people! 



JB:   Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about VWBPE?


Beth:  These environments are incredibly immersive and creativity-inspiring. There is a myriad of inventive ways that people are using different environments for education, and this conference is the heart of it. 

 

Kevin:  Instructors have used these environments to create immersive experiences that help students connect with skills in a way that is simply not possible simply by reading a book, watching presentations, or videos. The ability to place your mind’s eye from the vantage point of people at the heart of a learned experience and to appreciate the critical reasoning by being in the moment can provide greater insight by reframing one’s situational awareness. 




JB:   Where might a person go to get more information about VWBPE?


Beth:  We keep our website (http://vwbpe.org) updated with current information and blog posts during the year. If you’re in Second Life, there’s a VWBPE group you can join that’s very helpful. We’re also on several social media platforms that are linked to the website. You can also ask anyone on the Organizing Committee, including me, Beth. (Beth Ghostraven)  for more information - we’re happy to help you get involved with education in immersive 3D worlds.


So there you have it, folks. For the most innovative solutions and cutting-edge uses of Virtual Worlds to enhance education for students, check out VWBPE.org and learn how can get involved in this innovative outreach.



http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/VWBPE%20Gateway%20Pyxis/98/128/24


Be there!  Aloha!!


JB


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